Again, soldiers invade Ogun community over Fulani herdsmen’s attacks

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Barely two weeks after media report about soldiers from 35 Artillery Brigade, Alamala, Abeokuta escorting some herdsmen to Ketu-Yewa speaking villages in Yewa North Area of Ogun State, where they flogged villagers for rejecting the herders, soldiers again invaded the villages and made frantic attempt to force the victims to recant torture allegation against them.

This is as the Force Headquarters, Abuja, invite villagers for questioning following alleged petition by herdsmen.

Soldiers reportedly escorted some herdsmen to some of the villages on December 19, 2020 and flogged many of the residents for refusing to allow the herdsmen to graze their cattle on their farmlands.

About 29 villages in the area had been attacked in recent times by terror herdsmen who were said to have camped at Eggua, a neighbouring town, from where they led their cattle to destroy farmlands within the Ketu-Yewa communities, which share borders with the Republic of Benin.

The affected villages include Ateru, Moro, Ologun, Agbon, Igbota, Ogunba-Aiyetoro, Oke-Odo, Ibore, Gbokoto, Iselu, Ijale, Ohunbe, Igbeme, Ijoun, Owode-Ketu, Igan-Alade, Lashilo, Oja Odan, Moro, Ologun, Iyana Meta, Igbooro, Egbeda and Kuse.

The story has not been refuted by the Nigerian Army or the federal authorities many days after it was published.

Worried by the development, some traditional rulers in the area had written a petition against the soldiers, the state government, and the police in the state.

In a bid to silence the victims of the brutality, about six soldiers led by one Captain John Onyebuchi, visited some of the villages in the Yewa North Local Government Area of the state again at about 2 pm on Friday, January 29, 2021.

At Ubeku, in the presence of the Baale (village head) Chief Olaleye Adigun, a youth leader Peter Koposhu and other villagers, the soldiers asked one of their victims, Seye Mulero to recant his statement published in the petition and reported by The Nation. According to a four-minute audio recording of the event that transpired during the visit and obtained by journalists, Captain Onyebuchi revealed that the Army headquarters was worried by the petition it received and news report over the allegation that men of 35 Artillery Brigade, Alamala, Abeokuta escorted herdsmen to the affected communities where they brutalised some villagers for refusing herdsmen to graze their cattle on their farmlands.

In the said audio recording, Onyebuchi was heard frantically asking Mulero to make a video recording of the retraction to save the Army from embarrassment. The victim, however, refused to retract his statement, insisting that he was flogged and badly wounded.

Disturbed by Mulero’s stance, Onyebuchi said: “The story says ‘Soldiers escort herdsmen to Ogun villages… At that point, the soldiers seized him and beat him mercilessly…’

“See, this is a big allegation and we will not take it for granted.

“The (Nigeria) Army got in touch with Alamala (35 Artillery Brigade), which in turn sent me here. I have to write a report on the investigation because I must report back to the person who sent me here.

“…I want you (youth leader) to video him (Seye) because your name is what we have in the petition. Your name is what we have, so you (youth leader) will record him now, he will call his name and say that nobody touched him.”

Onyebuchi then asked that Mulero be filmed while refuting the story that he was beaten by soldiers who escorted herders to the village.

“He will call his name as you are recording him and say that all these are false. Nobody touched him and whatever he said, nobody forced him to say; he said it out of his freewill in the presence of the Baale and the youth leader and, of course, members of the community.

“Are you getting me? Go ahead…if that is done, I think I am okay with it.”

The soldier however warned that the failure of the victim to make the retraction might force the Army to return to arrest him as well as shun any distress call from the community.

He said: “Let me tell you what this thing means. There’s a need to clear this air. If you don’t clear it, next time when they call, the Army will not respond because you people have alleged and penned the name of the Army in a bad light (sic) and the Army will not respond when there is an emergency in this place.

“If they don’t respond, you can’t blame them. So, the need to clear this is very important. If I were you, I would come out clear because your name is everywhere in the petition they wrote; that you were beaten mercilessly, and look at you here.

“Say it that whoever is doing it is doing it on his own; that you didn’t send anybody.

“If you like, pretend to feign lack of understanding by saying ‘mi o gbo, mio gbo (I don’t understand)’, that is your problem… If tomorrow they come here and pick you up that you were using the name of the Army anyhow, you will go in for it. So, the earlier you clear the air, the better for you.”

Mulero, however, refused to be intimidated, saying: “…I was flogged. You can see the wounds on my back and I am still feeling pains. The soldiers beat me up, kicked me, and dealt blows on me. Even parts of my body swelled up.”

Mulero’s younger brother, Gabriel, who was also flogged by the soldiers, said the second coming of the soldiers had heightened fears among the villagers.

He said: “The soldiers wore red berets, which suggested that they were military police. They left around 4 pm. They met with the Baale, the youth leader Peter Koposhu and other villagers.

“They came in a military van and left disappointed after my brother refused to do what they wanted of him.”

The second visit of soldiers to the communities has created tension and panic in the area as residents are beginning to relocate for fear of being apprehended by the minions.

The villagers see continued harassment by military men as an indication of more trouble on the horizon. They fear that soldiers could resort to arrest and further intimidation of those perceived to be opposed to them and the herdsmen they are backing.

A villager, Daramola Adekola, said he was one of the people contemplating relocating from his village. He condemned what he termed as orchestrated oppression by soldiers following the rejection of herders in the community.

Adekola said: “I am an indigene of this community, but life has become miserable for us, especially those of us who are farmers, following the destruction of our crops and farmlands by herdsmen.

“Since we have been crying out to security forces for protection from the herders who have been killing our people, including children, and raping our women, the military did not for once respond to our cries.

“But look at the way they escorted herdsmen to forcibly graze in our villages and beat some of our people mercilessly for rejecting the herders.

“Now, they returned after our plight which was published by The Nation went viral and resorted to forcing the victims to recant following what they termed the embarrassment the report caused the Army.

“I am one of those considering leaving the community, because many of us fear that they may come back again to further deal with us, going by the countenance of the officer who led the soldiers after the victims refused to recant what was published in the petition and the newspaper.”

Reacting, the spokesperson for 35 Artillery Brigade, Major Osoba, confirmed that Captain Onyebuchi went to the villages on the said date and therefore was in the best position to explain what transpired.

He said: “Captain John Onyebuchi is one of our officers here, and he is the officer in charge of legal services.

“But since Captain Onyebuchi is the one who went to the villages, I want to advise you to demand his phone contact from the villagers so you can call him, because he is in the best position to explain to you what happened there.”

Meanwhile, the police had also served invitations on residents, asking them to come to the Force Headquarters in Abuja for interrogation.

The letter was signed by Mr. Kolo Yusuf, a Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) of FIB Special Tactical Squad, Force Headquarters in Abuja.

According to a copy of the letter sighted by The Nation, the villagers are expected to be questioned by operatives on February 8.

The letter dated January 26, 2021, reads in part: “This office is investigating a case of criminal conspiracy, unlawful possession of prohibited firearms, causing grievous hurt and mischief that your name featured in.

“You are kindly requested to interview (sic) the undersigned officer on 8th February 2021 by 1000hrs through Assistant Superintendent of Police, ASP Sunday Ibrahim…”

The invitation has since created tension in the villagers as residents feared they could be detained by the police.

Some residents who spoke with our correspondent said the police invitation was at the instance of the embattled herders who they said were hell-bent on intimidating the villagers to submission after their plot to use soldiers to achieve their aim failed.

The residents noted that senior officers from the Ogun State Police Command had earlier visited the affected villages barely one month ago on a fact-finding mission and did not find them wanting.

A resident of Asa village, Akanbi Afolabi, said: “The police invitation is another brazen attempt by the unrelenting herdsmen to silence us just so they can continue to unlawfully graze on our farmlands and by extension further their raping and killing of our women and daughters.

 

“They said we are being investigated for unlawful possession of firearms whereas the herders who had been attacking us with guns and machetes were never for once investigated let alone prosecuted for opening fire on our people and killing many residents.”

A farmer in Agbon-Ojodu, Lamidi Adeola, said the police were only trying to achieve what the soldiers could not do for the herders.

He said: “The police invitation is laughable. It is another ploy by the herdsmen to achieve their mission, which is to take over our farmlands and chase us away from our homes.

“The state police command had earlier in January visited here and confirmed that we have been calm in the face of provocation by fiendish herders. Hence, the latest invitation from Force Headquarters, Abuja is worrisome.

“We learnt that the plan was to invite us to Abuja where we would be detained for several months while the herders would have destroyed whatever is left of our ravaged farms by the time we are released.

“The irony of it all is that the herders who have been terrorising us with rifles and machetes are not being accused of bearing unlawful firearms while innocent villagers are now being hunted by the police for spurious allegations.

“Believe me, if our people had firearms, there would have been a balance of terror. But we are law abiding citizens, hence, we did not retaliate the attacks carried out against us lately.

“The only thing we have done is to resist herders from grazing in our villages, and that is why we are being unduly harassed by soldiers and policemen.”

The spokesman for Ogun State Police Command, Mr. Abimbola Oyeyemi, said the Command had no knowledge of the invitation served on the villagers from the Force Headquarters in Abuja.

Oyeyemi said: “We have no idea that the villagers have been served with an invitation by the Force Headquarters, Abuja. We shall find out the veracity of the invitation.

“However, we had visited the communities on January 3rd, where we held meetings with the community leaders and the leadership of the herdsmen to ensure that peace reigns between the host communities and herdsmen.”

ASP Ibrahim however confirmed that the police had actually invited the villagers for interrogation in Abuja.

Ibrahim said: “It is true that we served the invitation on some villagers in Yewa area of Ogun State.

“There’s a petition from the office of the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) that was sent to our office, and I was detailed to investigate it. noting that it would amount to treason that troops, wearing army uniforms “and bearing arms procured with taxpayers’ money, openly took sides against a group of law-abiding Nigerians on their ancestral land.”

Speaking with The Nation, a monarch whose jurisdiction covers some of the villages, the Eselu of Iseluland, Oba Akintunde Akinyemi, urged the federal government to rein in the Army and the police in order that peace might reign.

He also called for the establishment of a judicial panel of inquiry to, among others, investigate the brutalizing of residents by soldiers while siding with herders, killings and destruction of farmlands by herdsmen as well as the complicity of policemen from Abuja in the alleged plot to invite residents for interrogation in a bid to silence them.

Oba Akinyemi said: “The federal government must as a matter of urgency restrain the Army and operatives of Force Headquarters, Abuja from being used by herders to brutalise and intimidate my people. Enough is enough.

“But more importantly, we want the state government to commission a judicial panel of inquiry to investigate the complicity of the military and police in the heinous attacks on our people by herdsmen, especially the recent

“We served the invitation letters on the people (the herders) they were complaining against and a date (February 8) has been fixed for the people mentioned to come around to people and killing many residents.”

A farmer in Agbon-Ojodu, Lamidi Adeola, said the police were only trying to achieve what the soldiers could not do for the herders.

He said: “The police invitation is laughable. It is another ploy by the herdsmen to achieve their mission, which is to take over our farmlands and chase us away from our homes.

“The state police command had earlier in January visited here and confirmed that we have been calm in the face of provocation by fiendish herders. Hence, the latest invitation from Force Headquarters, Abuja is worrisome.

“We learnt that the plan was to invite us to Abuja where we would be detained for several months while the herders would have destroyed whatever is left of our ravaged farms by the time we are released.

“The irony of it all is that the herders who have been terrorising us with rifles and machetes are not being accused of bearing unlawful firearms while innocent villagers are now being hunted by the police for spurious allegations.

“Believe me, if our people had firearms, there would have been a balance of terror. But we are law abiding citizens, hence, we did not retaliate the attacks carried out against us lately.

“The only thing we have done is to resist herders from grazing in our villages, and that is why we are being unduly harassed by soldiers and policemen.”

The spokesman for Ogun State Police Command, Mr. Abimbola Oyeyemi, said the Command had no knowledge of the invitation served on the villagers from the Force Headquarters in Abuja.

Oyeyemi said: “We have no idea that the villagers have been served with an invitation by the Force Headquarters, Abuja. We shall find out the veracity of the invitation.

“However, we had visited the communities on January 3rd, where we held meetings with the community leaders and the leadership of the herdsmen to ensure that peace reigns between the host communities and herdsmen.”

ASP Ibrahim however confirmed that the police had actually invited the villagers for interrogation in Abuja.

Ibrahim said: “It is true that we served the invitation on some villagers in Yewa area of Ogun State.

“There’s a petition from the office of the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) that was sent to our office, and I was detailed to investigate it.

“We served the invitation letters on the people (the herders) they were complaining against and a date (February 8) has been fixed for the people mentioned to come around to police invitation served on hapless villagers, whose crops and farmlands have been destroyed by herders who also killed several women and men in these communities.

He added: “The police invitation of villagers who are mostly farmers is funny in the sense that the villagers’ means of livelihood have been destroyed by herders; so where will they get thousands of naira to transport themselves to and from Abuja, where intelligence gathered has revealed that they might likely be detained for several weeks?

“Recently, with the assistance of a local vigilance group, three herdsmen with one Ak47 rifle, machetes, and assorted live ammunition and cartridges were apprehended after they killed one Olabisi Afolabi and attacked some women at Moro and Eegelu villages.

“The suspects, namely Mohammed Bello, Muhammed Momoh and Yisau Umoru, were detained at the state police command, Eleweran, Abeokuta, but were released without being prosecuted.

“Therefore, it is funny that those who are victims of herders’ attacks are the ones being invited for interrogation in Abuja while herdsmen who are the tormentors have not been questioned even once.

Nation online…..

 

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